“Red, White, and Fight”
Since 1980, hockey has taught us to believe in miracles. No matter how desperate a team’s situation is, those down continue to fight valiantly with their backs against the wall.
With today’s fast-paced game and back-and-forth action, these miracles are becoming a common occurrence. The impossible comeback after a three-game playoff series deficit now seems to be a very real danger for leading teams.
Just last year, we witnessed just such a collapse from the 6th-seeded Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the 7th-seeded Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers overcame not only a 3-game series deficit, but also trailed 3-0 in Game7, eventually winning both 4-3. At the time, it seemed impossible that this had actually happened. Boston however seems to have started a trend, because series-leading, higher-seeded clubs seem to be having a very tough time closing out series this year. So far in these playoffs, we have seen five series in which a team led 3 games to none. Three of those series ended in sweeps, while the other two, which have involved leads by the 1 st and 2 nd seeds in the high-powered Western Conference, have been pushed to Game 7.
In the East, both Conference Semifinals series ended in sweeps, with the 5th-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the top seeded Washington Capitals, and the 3rd-seeded Bruins exacting their revenge on the 2nd-seeded Flyers.
In the West, the league’s top regular season team, the Vancouver Canucks, had a 3 games to none lead on the defending champions, the 8th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, only to have the Blackhawks rout them in games 4 and 5 and then force overtime in Game 7. The series ended with Canuck Alex Burrows capitalizing on a poor defensive end play from Chicago defenseman Chris Campoli. This one fluky play could have been all that prevented the Blackhawks from pulling of an historic comeback.
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Of course now the latest team on the verge of history is the 3 rd-seeded Detroit Red Wings in the West. After a first round sweep of the 6 th-seeded Phoenix Coyotes, the Wings found themselves on the verge of being swept themselves by the 2 nd-seeded San Jose Sharks. After losing the first 3 games, the Red Wings have won the next 3, while facing elimination, to force a Game 7 in San Jose tomorrow night, where the winner will meet the Canucks in Vancouver to battle for the Campbell trophy.
The Red Wings and Sharks are two teams with elite players at each position. The Sharks boast an offense that includes Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, and Patrick Marleau, plus Ryane Clowe, who is one of the playoffs point leaders but was injured for Game 6. Their defense includes former Cup winners Dan Boyle and Niclas Wallin, and their goaltender Antti Niemi was last year’s Cup winning goalie.
The Red Wings are a little more banged up, but have an outstanding mix of skill and experience. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are as good a one-two scoring punch as you could want in this league. Zetterberg returned recently after an injury, and Datsyuk had season injury problems are well, but both are still scoring at a pace of more than a point a game. Johan Franzen, a huge factor in the Red Wings recent postseason history, missed Game 6 and was replaced by the aged but talented Mike Modano. Captain Nicklas Lidstrom is once again a Norris Trophy nominee at age 41, and his defensive support includes the likes of Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart, as well as Niklas Kronwall, who has been outstanding in this series. Jimmy Howard may be the only real question for the Red Wings in net, but when his game is on, he can play with the best. The Red wings won a Cup just three years ago, and won the Conference two years ago, so there is still tons of Cup experience on this team.
Now that this series is do-or-die for both teams, expect each team to come out firing on all cylinders tomorrow night. These teams both have playoff history and will be hungry for a win; the Red Wings eager to continue their postseason success, and the Sharks eager to shake off their postseason failures. The team that can play consistently throughout the whole game is the team that will win the series. The Sharks will need to ignore the last three games to avoid any discouragement that the led got away. The Red Wings however will need to keep the previous games in mind to carry the momentum into the Shark Tank.
Will the Wings fly high or will the Sharks take a fatal bite out of their season? We’ll know by the end of tomorrow night.
By: Ryan Sweezey
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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